The New York Times reported in 2013 that notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb was buying land in Leith, N.D., and using the Web to call like-minded extremists to join him in the tiny rural town, with the goal of transforming it into a white nationalist enclave. Leith’s 24 longtime residents were growing alarmed and outraged.
The Times article caught the attention of filmmakers Michael Beach Nichols ’02 and Christopher K. Walker. “It just seemed like a real-life Western playing out, where you have this stranger coming into town, and he has nefarious motives, and he’s wanting to take over the government,” says Nichols, who did his American studies thesis at Amherst on violence in small Southern towns and went on to earn an M.A. in documentary filmmaking from the University of Florida.
When Nichols and Walker learned that Cobb’s plan was gaining traction—that Neo-Nazi Kynan Dutton had moved to Leith with his family, and that other white supremacists had bought land from Cobb in town—they decided to travel to North Dakota with their cameras.